11th Annual Spring Training Trek 2007

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2007 Trek Gallery

Friday, March 23 2007

Good morning and welcome to Day 7 of the 11th Annual Spring Training Trek 2007!

Slap in another gel soul because it's Triple Play Friday, and there is no baseball involved!  We start with an early call time at 6:30am, so you can guess what that means.  That's right, it is a second backstage tour at Animal Kingdom, this time a Backstage Safari starting at 8:30am.  There is a big group this time, and in a blink of an eye we walk past a gate by the Rain Forest Cafe and are back stage.

The Animal Kingdom is the largest theme park at Disney World.  In fact, it is so large that you can fit the the other three theme parks inside it.  The African Safari itself is large enough to contain the Magic Kingdom alone.  So the first thing we see as we ride in a pair of vans to the animal care areas is a fenced in area containing DAKcycles.  These are bicycles that Animal Kingdom cast members use to get around the backstage area.

As we head to the elephant dormitories, we pass a number of other animal care facilities.  Because all the animals return to their private abodes each night, there are many secret paths to the outlying care facilities.  Most of these are cleverly disguised but you can see a few of them from onstage if you know where to look.  The animals are trained through positive reinforcement to "return to base" as well as how to present their ears, tails or shoulders for medical examination.  Every animal is seen by a veterinary assistant at least once a week.

We arrived at the elephant dormitories.  There are three male African elephants (identified by their Africa-shaped ears), two owned by Disney and one on loan.  The two locals have both encountered accidents that are apparently not uncommon in their natural habitats, but resulted in their losing one of their tusks.  Completely unrelated, both are either completely or virtually sterile, which is why the third male was brought in.  Disney has been successful in breeding African Elephants, picture proof of which can be found in the Trek Gallery.  The elephants are extremely strong and they can be moody, so animal caretakers are careful not to leave anything heavy, like steel drums or tractor tires where an elephant can pick it up with its trunk and hurl it.

Next we walked past the cast member cafeteria and to the food preparation center for the animals.  Each animal receives an individually designed diet from fresh vegetables and meats, ingredients for which are delivered daily.  No animals are killed on site, but are bred and killed professionally and humanely at an animal food farm. Meats and veggie dishes are prepared separately to avoid contamination.  The meals are delivered both at night and during the day onstage, offering incentives for the animals to present themselves for viewing no matter how shy they might be.

Our next stop was Conservation Station, accessed from within the park via the train at Rafiki's Planet Watch.  The name was changed to Rafiki's after Imagineers found guests were not taking the 5 minute train trek to the back of the park for the incredibly educational opportunities as well as the hands-on animal interactions and the window looking into the surgical room where whatever the veterinarians are working on, be it taking blood samples to surgery are on display.  We went backstage to talk with the veterinarians, who take care of animals as small as a dart frog and as big as, well a giraffe. 

We rode the train back to Africa, facing only towards Asia to mask the parking lots and additional park operations facilities hidden behind our backs.  Our tour concluded with a private guided safari where the usual Big Red, Thompson Gazelle and poacher chase were set aside while our tour guide pointed out a number of Safari features like the hidden elephant paths, the tree stumps that were disguised feeding platforms, and other secrets that you will have to take the tour yourselves to discover.

After the tour, I had an early lunch at Tusker House, the best place to eat in Africa (the only place to eat in Africa).  The turkey wrap with tomato bisque soup, diet coke and cheesecake came to $13.27 plus tax.  I put it on the dining plan (4 counter service meals remaining) and headed out of Africa and out of the Animal Kingdom.  It was time for the second third of the day to begin at Disney-MGM Studios.


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Revised: 04/04/07.